China signaled for the U.S. to stay out of disputes over the South China Sea, three days before President Barack Obama is due to meet with regional leaders concerned over China’s territorial claims in the oil-and gas- rich waters.
“China enjoys indisputable sovereign rights over the South China Sea islands and adjacent waters,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters today in Beijing. “We oppose the internationalization and expansion of the South China Sea dispute because it will only make the issue more complicated.”
Portions of the South China Sea are claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. China claims almost the entire sea, and Chinese maps show a dotted line swooping southward hundreds of miles from the Chinese island province of Hainan to form a claim U.S. officials call the ”cow’s tongue.”
China’s claims overlap those of its Association of South East Asian neighbors, whose leaders will meet with Obama Sept. 24 in New York. Vietnam is selling rights to oil and gas fields that conflict with China’s territorial claims. The Philippines destroyed Chinese markers in the sea during a 1995 dispute.
The U.S. is pushing back against a more aggressive Chinese presence in the South China Sea, urging countries such as Vietnam and its neighbors to unite to balance China’s increasing assertiveness. In July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at an Asean meeting in Hanoi, said resolving territorial disputes off China’s southern coast is “a leading diplomatic priority,” signaling her intention to intercede in the region.
That drew a rebuke from Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who said “internationalizing” the issue “can only make matters worse and more difficult to solve.” Clinton’s “seemingly fair” comments are “virtually an attack on China,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in July.
Jiang said that “issues concerning territorial sovereignty and major development are a core interest” of China’s.
The South China Sea “is not an international issue nor a regional issue and should be solved peacefully through friendly consultation,” Jiang said. “It should be properly settled between China and countries directly involved.”
Jiang’s comments on the South China Sea territorial dispute come as China and Japan are locked in a diplomatic dispute centering on conflicting territorial claims in the East China Sea. China has suspended high-level diplomatic contacts with Japan over the Sept. 7 detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain whose trawler collided with two Japanese coast guard vessels in disputed waters.
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